Quilliam Foundation “Facilitates” EDL Leaders’ Exit From Organisation

Today’s big story, currently receiving saturation news coverage:


Quilliam is proud to announce that Tommy Robinson and Kevin Carroll, the leaders of the anti-Islamist group, the English Defence League (EDL), have decided to leave the group. Having set up the EDL, infamous for its street protests, in 2009, they wish to exit this group, because they feel they can no longer keep extremist elements at bay.

…We call all of Tommy’s former colleagues in the EDL to follow in his footsteps and also call on Islamist extremist leaders to follow this example and leave their respective groups. Tommy and Kevin believe the voice they have created can be channelled in a positive direction. Quilliam stands ready to facilitate such moves across the spectrum…

Robinson (aka Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) and Carroll subsequently gave a press conference in Bloomsbury with Quilliam’s Maajid Nawaz and Usama Hasan, and Robinson has also given interviews to Channel 4 News, BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight and BBC Newsnight (there may be others). He claims that “extremists” and “Nazis” sought to take control of the EDL while he was in prison for passport fraud earlier this year, and that he now considers street protests to be “counter-productive” because Muslims and non-Muslims need to work together against Islamists; he also says that he intends to “take training” from Quilliam to “progress the voice that’s been built in a constructive manner”. Newsnight further showed that he has been meeting Muslims in recent months for a documentary (there was a shot of him with Mohammad Ansar; Ansar confirmed on Twitter that “I have spent the last 18 months working with Tommy Robinson”, although he went on say he was “was disgusted by the behaviour of Maajid Nawaz and Tommy today in London”.)

Nick Lowles of Hope Not Hate has a couple of interesting specific details from the press conference:

They have attacked their former funder Alan Ayling (aka Lake) as being “tight” while US based Muslim-hater Pam Geller is credited with keeping Lennon’s family afloat while he was in prison.

Ayling was formerly described as the organisation’s “millionaire funder”, although it transpired that this was somewhat exaggerated  – he had a job in IT, and he only ever donated a few hundred pounds to the group.

Lowles adds:

The good news for Robert Spencer and Pam Geller is that the two former leaders have not turnd their back on them, yet. The Quilliam Foundation, who brokered this “defection”, were rightly less charitable towards the pair.

In turn, Geller and Spencer have commended Robinson’s move:

He has decided, and my AFDI colleague Robert Spencer and I strongly endorse his decision, that his time is better spent working for the defense of England and human rights against Sharia and Islamization in different and more effective ways.

…Now, over two years later, it is clear to all of us that the best way to proceed is to leave the EDL behind and move forward in new directions.

Geller’s relationship with the EDL has been on and off for some time, but the thuggish and often drunken antics of EDL street protests must have been awkward given Geller’s attempts to maintain links with respectable and religious conservatives. However, one struggles to see how Robinson and Carroll can maintain any kind of coherent association with Quilliam and while working with Geller and Spencer, whose anti-Islam rhetoric is lurid and conspiratorial (and that’s before we get onto the absurdities of Geller’s birtherism).

According to the IB Times, Robinson’s personal assistant Helen Gower has confirmed that

“A new group, that isn’t street-based, is going to be formed. Tommy is definitely going to be in the new group, and Kevin will be in it too.”

Newsnight mentioned that the EDL now has “interim leaders”, although further details are scare.

For its part, this is not the first time that the Quilliam Foundation has sought to woo ex-EDL members: the first attempt ended in fiasco, with two invited speakers backing out and accusing Quilliam – in salty language – of misleading them. A more successful event with two different ex-EDL members took place in July, although one of the two speakers has today claimed on Twitter that he had been “used” by Quilliam and that the press conference with Robinson was a “publicity stunt like I was”.

Interestingly, the BBC World Tonight says that Quilliam had agreed to give an interview, but had “pulled out”; on the same programme, Matthew Goodwin of Nottingham University expressed misgivings about the think-tank’s decision to give Robinson a platform. According to Goodwin:

If you took a cynical view of today you would look at the events and see a counter-extremism think-tank using this as an opportunity to boost their profile within what is already, I would argue, a very murky counter-extremism industry that is often not very transparent, that is often driven by motives that are not very clear. I was expecting today to see an unequivocal, unambiguous renunciation of the English Defence League. We didn’t see anything of that nature, which I think reflects very badly on the think-tank that was hosting today’s events.